The blue tunnel of hyperspace contrasted with the red of Republic officialdom as the Emissary sped on its way to Kettooine. The Grissk light transport was almost new- no paint chips or loose panels marred its smooth, elliptical surface.
The only well-worn part of the ship was the pilot. Scratching beneath his leather flight helmet, Piban Macrosun sat in the cockpit performing the last of his post-jump checks. Satisfied at the green readings across the board, he pulled out the pocket holo and clicked it on.
rotating image of the old swoop incited a sentimental smile. What
a classic! The Phoenix Firebird XXXIV was a beautiful machine (with
the Zwilich "C" modifications, thank you). They didn't
make them like that anymore. He'd found over half of the parts he
needed already, via antique and junk dealers. The chassis was
waiting at home too, polished to a gleaming finish. A few more
passenger runs like this, a few lucky finds at some old speeder
dealers, and he'd turn every head in the skystation as he floored
it down skylane 66.
Sighing, he stood up and walked aft to the lounge. Senator Claymore Trelk was still talking, maintaining the commanding posture his official robes were so suited to. Piban didn't understand why he had brought along the red ROB1 protocol droid beside him- the droid didn't seem to get a word in.
"And it was in Galitrax campaign" the senator continued, goatee bobbing with his words "where I led our forces against the Ithorians, that I gained my greatest victory. You see they had been performing experiments on a system that we had claimed as a colony "
"I am more interessted" said the Jedi apprentice "in Poulossess current ssituation". Hara-Kalor was a Kwol, a reptilian race known for their nobility. One of his eyes watched Piban now, gleaming ebony beneath the black scales. The strip of skin on his throat was currently coloured white, which meant (if Piban recalled correctly) the lizard was at peace.
"Well, I am not entirely familiar with the situation, young Jedi." He began to explain. "You see I have been very busy with a project with Chancellor Valorum. He and I ..."
"Not familiar?" The robed reptile cut in again. "Iss it not your bussinesss to repressent your ssysstem?"
Trelk's expression darkened. "My time spent with the Chancellor has been most important and has been invaluable in the service of my system. The Chancellor is a great leader and I support him in our project completely. Poulos is fine- you'll see. Why we need an investigator is beyond me".
other passenger picked another cracker from the table, crunched
it noisily, then folded his armoured arms. Nobody seemed to know
exactly what organisation Oord worked with, but his official
status as a republic investigative operative inclined people not
to ask. "The
Republic is not as it once was, senator. You of all people should
his voice gave the impression that he knew more than he was
is spreading- from pirate raids to trade disputes, and in the
interests of galactic security it must be monitored".
Piban cleared his throat in an attempt to relieve tension. "Good news, gentlemen. We will arrive at Kettooine right on schedule. A quick passenger pickup, then it's on to Poulos".
There was silence for a moment, then Trelk sighed with relief. "I have some matters to tend to in my quarters. Beeone, log into the communications port to get me a list of recent news items involving Poulos".
"As you wish, sir". The droid nodded politely.
Before he could move, a metallic blur skittered across the table, grabbed the pack of crackers, and vanished out the aft door. Oord and Hara-Kalor seem unconcerned at the event, perhaps lost in their earlier discussion. Piban saw things differently.
"What in the twin suns was that?" he bellowed, pointing in the direction it had gone. "What have you people inflicted on my ship? Do something!"
merely shrugged. "I am a senator. I don't do that sort of thing." He said, and then
shuffled off to his quarters.
Finally spurred to action by Piban's disposition, Oord drew his blaster (a long-barrelled, heavy affair with underslung suction gun) and made his way with Hara-Kalor and the pilot to the back of the ship. Passing the living quarters and descending some light metal stairs, the trio found themselves in the cargo hold, littered with containers of various sizes.
Hara-Kalor paused as if listening, scaled eyes sliding closed. "That way" he motioned to the far right corner with a claw. Oord had already started to move in that direction, nodding his concurrence.
a large container, Oord indicated a corroded corner with a hole
large enough to permit the entrance of their mysterious intruder.
He covered the container's door with his blaster while Hara-Kalor
braced himself at the handle. With a slight nod between them, the
padawan flung the door open.
The container had originally stored electronic components, and technically that definition still applied. Circuit boards, droid parts, casing and wiring now littered the interior and surrounded a young unkempt human who sat on a box eating the missing crackers. His right hand absently stroked the small rodentlike droid on his shoulder.
cocked the blaster. "Explain yourself" he said in a professional tone.
Unfazed by the apparent threat, the young man bowed slightly. "I am Trian Letstra, and you were my ticket off Coruscant. Thanks!"
Oord's comlink crackled with the voice of the Senator. "Oord, update me on the situation."
"Everything's under control, Senator. We've found a stowaway and are currently questioning him."
"Arrest him immediately and bring him to me!"
Oord's reply came with a wry smile. "Not being a little paranoid are you sir?"
"Are you doubting my importance?"
"Not your importance" Oord began in a mutter, then shut off the comlink. "Out" he said to Trian, motioning with the barrel. "Let's go".
Though surrounded by a law enforcer, a senator, a Jedi padawan and the captain of the ship he had stowed away on, Trian was unconcerned. More interested in the circuit panel he flipped through his fingers, he exuded the ignorance of authority so fitting to the technically fixated.
"This isn't some petty cruise liner, my boy" Trelk patronised. "This ship is on official business, and now you're on this ship with ME".
Trian shrugged. "Hey, I needed to get off Coruscant" he said dismissively. "If I have to put up with you, that's a sacrifice I'll just have to make".
Trelk grated his teeth. "Enough of this time-wasting" he rumbled. "Captain, this man is your responsibility. Make sure he stays out of trouble, and keep him on the ship until we reach Poulos".
Piban led the captive to his own quarters. "The senator likes to think he has authority over people" he explained patiently. "I expect most of us will play along until we get bored. So, have you ever tinkered with swoop engines?"
The techs reply was interrupted by a tap on Pibans shoulder by the protocol droid.
Excuse me sir he said, but- where might I find the communications port?
Kettooine, planet of the winds, was quite an eye-catching sight. Atmospheric conditions generated winds that constantly blasted across the world's surface at terrific speeds, producing fierce static storms that crackled their aggression for all to see.
Fordine station, in high orbit, had been constructed appropriately. Long and cylindrical, its planetside surfaces were composed almost entirely of transparisteel for easy viewing. This made it attractive for tourists, a drawcard for shoppers, and an infamous pain for pilots that had to dock with it.
"Hmmm just a careful of one more there" mumbled Piban as the Emissary finally clanged into place with the airlock. Leaning back in the acceleration couch with a self-congratulatory sigh, he turned to ROB1. "You guys can shop, or whatever it is you do. I'll stay here with our guest" he nodded in the direction of Trian (who was rummaging through a toolbox).
"Yes, sir" the droid said in a monotone, shuffling out on the heels of the senator.
"Come along, B1" Trelk said, eyeing the wide corridor beyond the airlock. "We must make for the casino to collect our last passenger".
"Of course, sir" the droid nodded, blinking his photoreceptors at the planet's sparking spectacle.
Oord caught Hara-Kalor's attention with a subtle hand movement. "This way" he said, nodding in the opposite direction. "If you want to find out why the people around here are so afraid, you don't start at the top of society".
As they moved deeper into the station, Claymore Trelk's smooth, purposeful stride forced the droid to quicken its pace. The senator seemed oblivious to the view and the crowds, lost in thought as they entered an expensive shopping complex. Oord had been correct- things were not what they used to be in the senate. Progress these days seemed mired in beauracracy; endless proposals and counter-proposals, voting and vetoing. He was a military man, a man of action. He almost always supported Chancellor Valorum's leadership, pushing to make it stronger and more decisive, but some days his patience wore thin.
His inward reflection ended as they reached the casino, an extravagant affair that befit the station's tourist stature. Occupying a cul-de-sac at the end of the mall, it lured customers with a holographic waterfall of credits that streamed down over the entrance.
Noting the convenient proximity to an adjoining bank, Trelk and Beeone stepped through the credit shower to be welcomed by a slimy, fast-talking creature that they both ignored.
"Stay here" the senator motioned Beeone to a nearby table, then began to scan the room for their passenger.
Eventually Kalor took his opportunity to slip away from Oord, not wanting to draw attention to his contact. He preferred to work alone in this. He was, after all, on assignment from his master, Tsai-Roshi. He and Oord had talked among patrons at a cantina, and one of them had slipped him a note asking for help. The padawan had detected no sign of a trap.
to the seedier end of the station, he quickly found Warehouse 3B.
Reaching out with his feelings, he sensed no-one around save his
contact; Torl, the mysterious man from the bar.
Kalor entered the warehouse to find Torl pacing nervously back and forth. The warehouse was nearly empty, save for some crates dotting the fringes like discarded toy blocks. In the dim light, Kalor could barely make out the man's features, but he knew he was in the right place.
"I'm glad you came" said Torl, "I was beginning to get nervous. Don't know who you can trust these days." His eyes darted nervously, like a child afraid of the dark. "Only the Jedi are this trustworthy".
"You have nothing to fear, there iss no one elsse around" said the Jedi with certainty. "What can you tell me of the trouble on Pouloss?"
wrung his hands together. "I myself know little of the system, except
that my brother lives there. I make an honest living servicing
repulsor-lift trolleys but he runs a
operation on Poulos. Recently an organisation has moved in on his
turf and threatened to kill him if he doesn't get out."
"Ssomeone iss trying to clean up Pouloss?"
"Not likely, they want to take over the criminal element, not wipe them out. They've been doing it all over Poulos and some of the surrounding systems, gathering the power. Some crime syndicates have been bought out, some driven off and some just taken out. Some say it's the Hutts, but it's not their style. They call themselves " he lowered his voice even more "The Crystal Circle".
Hara-Kalor blinked his large eyes. The name meant nothing to him. "And your brother'ss name?" He said, scales wrinkling in concern.
"Vorg" he replied. "You won't bring him in,
will you? He-"
A wooden creaking from near the door stopped the conversation. The Kwol Padawan whirled to face the sound, stepping protectively in front of Torl.
A dry scratching sound eminated from one of the small crates he had passed. Hara-Kalor opened himself to the Force and paused in confusion, not sensing life from it. One of the other crates began to shake.
With a splintering abruptness three old-model battle droids burst into view, having apparently heard enough. They unfolded to full height and reaching for their blasters.
mentally berated himself for his overconfidence. His senses had
assured him that the warehouse was deserted of other life forms,
but he had failed to consider all the possibilities. Maintaining
calm in the face of conflict, he drew his own weapon- the force
lash. Similar to a lightsaber but with some flexibility in the
blade, its cylinder of energy encompassed a thin shaft of metal
that telescoped from the hilt. There was a powerful hum, and the
warehouse shimmered eerily in the pale purple light.
The droids snapped their weapons to ready position and fired in one mechanical motion. Kalor dodged as a bolt sizzled past his head. The man behind was not as quick and recoiled as he was shot through the chest. He coughed weakly and tottered with momentary balance, then the Jedi pushed him to the ground to present a smaller target.
To hesitate was to die. The kwol quickly covered the distance to his adversaries and separated one droid from his head in a single sweep of the force lash. His two companions kept theirs and one shot Kalor in the shoulder, stunning the Jedi-in-training.
Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, he swung the weapon again at one of the remaining two. The droid's head retracted swiftly into the torso, dodging the weapon, then shot out again into his face.
Hara-Kalor reeled, swinging the force lash ineffectually again. Reaching out with his senses, he knew that Torl was dead.
The odds were against him, and the one he was to defend was slain. Seeing the only option, Hara-Kalor burst past the droids and out of the warehouse, melting into the shadows.
"Enn Peicy" said the doctor, wringing Claymore's hand. "You don't need any introduction, senator. It's a pleasure".
"And a reciprocated one, of course" Trelk replied, appraising the doctor. The human had "young professional" written all over him (metaphorically speaking), from his trendy casual suit to the flip-down bioanalysis lens over his left eye.
The two sat and drank at the table for some time. Enn had a keen interest in current affairs and they talked over the taxation of trade routes, speculating how the Trade Federation would react.
wild theories and a sabbac game later, the senator led them back
to where Beeone waited with long-suffering patience at the door.
After an offhand introduction, the three walked under the
holographic waterfall of credits.
And into chaos. Two men had just burst from the adjoining bank in a repulsorlift shopping trolley filled with credits, faces covered in opaque cloth and spraying blaster fire. A granite-skinned security guard ran out on their heels and caught two shots to the midriff, collapsing down the stairs in a heap.
"Quick" said Claymore tonelessly, pushing a delivery droid from the controls of a second trolley. A man of action also, Enn sprang into the trolley without hesitation and whipped a stubby blaster pistol from his suit jacket. They hummed off after the escaping criminals, one of which lost his balance in a high-speed turn and toppled into the crowd.
The bank robber fell heavily on the cobblestones of the mall, but kept his grip on the blaster. Rolling roughly to his feet, he pressed it into the skull of a passing tourist from Malastare and swung her around, looking for immediate threats.
"Get away or I'll do her! Get back! all of you!"
were conflicting eyewitness reports of what happened next. One
witness said that the suspect received a blaster shot to the side
of the head at almost point-blank range. Another said that there
had been a click and a crimson blur, but when the lifeless robber
slumped to the stones leaving his hostage unharmed, all that was
nearby were a pregnant Ithorian, two elderly Quermian bargain
shoppers and a red protocol droid.
Claymore ducked a blaster bolt and stamped hard on the flimsy accelerator, ignoring the trolley's tinny announcements of this week's fantastic specials. The simple vehicle responded sluggishly- it had not been designed for pursuit.
Fortunately, neither had their quarry's. The two trollies sped low over the heads of the crowd, each weaving for an advantage over the other. Enn stepped awkwardly to the front of their trolley, putting his foot into a foul-smelling bag of fruit, and tried to line up a shot.
"Hold on!" cried Claymore, sliding the trolley around a glittering DISCOUNT DROIDS banner and making Enn's shot go wide. Clawing for the vehicle's feeble flight ceiling, he tried to coax more speed out of the engine in what promised to be a long chase.
put a stop to that thought by shooting the fleeing villain
directly through the back of the head at long range. As the
driverless trolley lowered placidly to the mall floor, Claymore
throttled back to flank it and wait for security to arrive.
Everyone arrived back at the ship in a notably different state to the one they had left. Enn smugly reveled in being the hero of the moment, Claymore was unusually quiet, Beeone shuffled in alone, and Hara-Kalor glided into the Emissary and into a corner, wordlessly turning his focus inward and willing himself to heal.
Piban sighed with resignation. He'd just had a good hour or so of sabbac with Trian and was beginning to get the upper hand, but they were on a tight schedule. Though the others still eyed their stowaway with mistrust, the pilot was beginning to warm to him. "Have a seat, everyone" he said in his captain's voice, absently working the navicomputer.
Once in hyperspace, they all seemed a little withdrawn. The Jedi refused to tell anyone where he had gone, and Oord's penetrating gaze observed everyone in a way they all found unsettling. Piban, playing the perfect host of his ship, started up the holochess table to get everyone in a more sociable frame of mind, and Claymore was about to challenge him to a game when it happened.
There was an explosive roar that struck their ears like a hammer blow, and the floor jolted violently beneath them. Most were flung off their feet, scattering food, tools and miscellany as they helplessly struck lockers, tables and the floor. Ears ringing, they lay there momentarily stunned by the sudden shock.
"Say" said Piban in a masterpiece of understatement. "That didn't sound good".
Beeone, who had been flung up the corridor to the cockpit, raised his head and blinked his photoreceptors in surprise. Out the cockpit window he could see that they'd reverted to realspace, and the ominous form of an asteroid rolled away from them, sprinkling shards from the impact.
The red emergency lights and alarm klaxons were enough to incite panic, but what the droid found most worrying was another sound- that of atmosphere escaping through a ruptured hull.
"Oh my" he said in a small voice.
[GM's note: a BAD astrogation roll, followed by an even worse roll on the astrogation mishap table.]
Stumbling with the rolling of the ship, Piban staggered into the cockpit and threw himself into the pilot's chair. Taking in the damage report with wide eyes, he saw that the collision could hardly have been worse. One of the ship's engines had been sheared completely off by the impact, the shields were gone, the hyperdrive was leaking, and even the life support systems had been destroyed. The air in the ship was all they had to breathe- and it was getting less by the second. In its current state, the ship would break apart within minutes.
Glancing at the flickering sensors, he spotted a system nearby. Fighting down panic, he gripped the control column and struggled to steer the wildly careening ship toward it.
Hampered by his senatorial robes, Claymore crawled across a floor that was fast becoming a wall. Throwing himself up and through a doorway, he landed in the corridor leading aft.
QUICK!! he shouted to Oord over the roar of escaping air, TO THE ESCAPE PODS!
The enforcer shook his head, hair whipping around his face. WE DONT HAVE ESCAPE PODS! he bellowed back. OUR ONLY HO-
There was a sharp clang that reverberated through the ship, and the wind stopped, replacing the howling with a tense metallic whistle. Oord shot a puzzled glance to the senator, then they staggered aft as Hara-Kalor joined them.
In the hold, one of the cargo container doors had been placed over the hull breach. Trian wiped his brow with the effort, his small pet droid gripping his shoulder almost tight enough to draw blood. The tech then turned his attention to one of the power generators, furiously coiling cable from the destroyed life-support system.
The door creaked, and started to buckle.
Uh said Oord, Thats going to-
I know snapped Trian. He finished coiling the cable around some piping. Give me a hand with this.
They struggled with the parts over to the container door. Trian motioned them back and kicked the power generators switch with his foot.
The arrangement clamped itself to the door, and the door to the hull, with a clang.
Electromagnet marvelled Hara-Kalor, impressed at his improvisation.
It wont hold it for long the tech wiped his brow, Minutes.
This might help Enn appeared from one of the other containers with a large spray can. He hurried to the breach and began to coat it in liquid transparisteel.
The whistling had just gurgled into silence when the ship lurched again. Sparks spat from the breach. The doctor jumped back in alarm, looking at the can curiously.
I didnt think this stuff did that he mumbled.
It doesnt Oord started out of
the hold, we just hit atmosphere.
The nose of the Emissary flared instantly. Having not been designed to enter a planetary atmosphere at this speed or trajectory, It spread flame over the hull and plumed behind them like a comet. Piban eased the ships nose up and fired the lower manoeuvring thrusters, trying to maximise resistance and bleed off speed without shaking the ship apart. Though it responded like a Hutt trying to do gymnastics, at least the temporary seal had stopped them venting air and spinning.
Beeone tottered into the cockpit, followed by Oord. They stood there speechless, mesmerised by the horizon titling beyond the flickering flames. They could feel the heat through the hull. Oord smelled smoke.
The others rushed in. Strap in Piban commanded, not taking his eyes from the controls.
The world below had resolved itself into a vast landscape of forests, mountains and plains. The noise of the ship forcing itself through the air made a horrific ripping sound that tugged fear into panic. Hara-Kalor seemed calm through it all, accepting. Although, Claymore realised, facial expressions were difficult to read on the reptile.
Ive got a city on the sensors said Oord, who had taken the station. At four mark ten. He roughly drew the safety harness around himself and clicked it into place.
There was a jumble of limbs as everyone followed suit. The ships shaking was heavier now. A creaking and wrenching sound groaned through the ship as the electromagnet gave out and the door was torn through the hull. The howling was renewed with a vengeance.
Piban concentrated. Ahead he could see a small plain surrounding the shining glint of civilisation. The ship was coming in far too fast- an ordinary landing was out of the question. Using the landing gear would just cartwheel them- their only chance was to belly it.
He engaged the repulsors, seeking to slow them further. The ship dipped and they all sagged under the weight.
Piban struggled with the
bucking control column like he was wrestling a serpent. BRACE FOR IMPACT! he shouted over the
There was an instant of silence.
The Emissary slammed onto the turf like a skipping stone. It bounced into the air trailing debris, throwing everyone on board as far into the air as their harnesses would allow. Piban fought to keep the ship from rolling as it struck again. The plain blurred by beneath them, and the sound of tearing metal reached their ears over the din. A pipe burst over Beeones head, spraying the droid with a scalding liquid that he ignored. Trians droid clattered to the floor and fastened itself to his chair with its little claws. Somewhere aft, the hold was torn open in a fireball that washed toward them. It came within three feet of Claymores horrified face before the speeding ships vacuum sucked it behind them. He hit a button on the wall and sealed off the cockpit.
Piban felt like he was riding an asteroid bareback. Realising that their fate was now beyond his control, he cut power to all systems to lessen the risk of further fire.
The ship was slowing now, and began to roll to starboard. The terrifying skimming gave way to violent jostling, throwing them painfully around in their seats once more. A final jolt on a small hillock, and the ship lay still.
Piban punched the release
of his harness. Everyone out! he yelled as they began to hear the crackling
Trian was the first to extricate himself from his restraining harness and reach the hatch. He strained with the manual release, but it refused to move.
Its fused tight he shrugged to Hara-Kalor.
Motioning him aside, the Jedi drew and ignited his force lash. With effort, he pushed the glowing blade through the metal and cut a ragged ellipse.
Piban joined them as daylight flooded in with a clang. I guess the atmosphere is breathable he said dryly, tossing aside a breathing mask. Muttering something about naive beings who had never been off Coruscant, he stepped through.
By the time they had all scrambled from the hole, the ship (what was left of it) was well alight. Over a third of it was spread behind them for four kilometers, in jagged chunks of varying sizes. The black scar in the earth contrasted sharply with the beautiful plain and nearby forest.
I guesss were not going to the Pouloss ssysstem now? said Hara-Kalor as they watched it burn.
Be glad we got down at all said Piban, brushing himself off. After a hyper collision like that, we should be breathing vacuum by now.
Train studied his fingernails modestly. Nobody expressed thanks that he and Piban had just saved their lives.
I couldnt even find out what system were in lamented Piban. Were lost.
Enn gained their attention. Hey! Look at this!
Over the hillock they could see the grass gently sloping up for a kilometer to the city they had briefly seen on their way down. Its smooth, sleek towers promised a modern tech level and possible passage offplanet. Most of the distance to the city was dotted by tripods of sharpened logs.
What are those for? puzzled Enn.
Tank traps said Claymore knowingly. Ground-attack vehicle obstacles. This place is not as tranquil as it first seemed.
Oord walked toward them, then bent and studied some of the ground. Tracks he said. Treaded vehicle tracks. I havent seen anything like these before- they alternate between deep and shallow.
Ssomeone comess hissed Hara-Kalor.
It was true. In the distance, five figures could be seen coming down from the city on foot. Oord unfastened his blasters holster.
The distant figures drew nearer and details could soon be made out. They were of a rodent species, slightly smaller than the average human, with grey fur of a shade that bordered on blue. The robes they wore gave them an air of nobility, offset by the weapons they carried. The blaster carbines were held at ease, not threatening but able to be used at a moments notice.
Claymore smiled. Doogo. We must be in the Dabbadon system. Close to Poulos, it was one of the other systems he represented in the senate.
Beeone stepped forward. Nitch tuk chit tisquee. Chikchik fik niggut! he said smoothly.
Their ears pricked up. Fikik zee, bik Flitch quee itchik. Ticchit. they replied, visibly relaxing.
Tik isql Bissk? Beeone cocked his head
[A little] said one of the Doogo. [Welcome, ..fallers. Do you have wiskivik? Er squealers?]
Injured translated Beeone.
honourable Flitch, only our pride and fortune. We welcome your
After some introductions, hand shaking and whisker-twitching, they started toward the city. Flitch, a security officer, had not recognised Claymore as the senator that represented his system, but he and the other Doogo seemed quite excited once it was explained. They said that a terrible crisis had settled on the city, but would not explain more, saying it was not his place.
In the distance, where a mountain range ringed the plains and forests, they could see a low flying ship. As they watched, it launched some sort of projectile at the hillside beneath it. The impact produced a cloud of smoke and debris, and moments later the rumbling reached their ears. Flitch also refused to explain this, saying he did not know where the bomber came from or why it was bombing uninhabited foothills.
The city was surrounded by a wall the hight of a mans chest. It was blackened and pitted in places from blaster fire, and some of the outlying buildings had collapsed.
they boarded a repulsor skiff and continued their journey into
the citys heart, Hara-Kalor was struck by its architecture
and constituency. The Doogo did not appear to be a militant
people; most of the city seemed devoted to learning and study.
They had also been quick to trust him and the others who came
down on the Emissary. Why anyone would want to attack such
a hospitable people presented itself as a further mystery.
Their journey ended at what was obviously some sort of palace; its spires thrusting skyward in salute to its inhabitants. Flitch led them to its summit, pausing only for them to deposit their weapons with security staff. Passing through rows of blue-garbed honour guards, they entered the throne room.
King Reepich was old- that much was apparent to any species. His fur had greyed, some whiskers had been lost, and his whole body seemed stooped with the burden of responsibility he carried. The beady eyes, however, spoke of a mind as sharp as the ceremonial rapier he wore.
Senator he nodded to Claymore Trelk. You come at an opportune time.
I apologise for calling unannounced, King Reepich Claymore nodded respectfully. I was in the vicinity and thought I would pay you a visit.
Actually, we were headed- began Beeone, but a subtle kick from Oord engaged his discretionary circuits.
Unfortunately continued the Senator, my ship was destroyed in an accident. After we discuss your current issues, I would appreciate you contacting Coruscant. Another transport is needed for myself and my entourage.
We are glad you made it a priority to visit us said the king,I would be glad to assist you.
Claymore smiled inwardly at his manipulation of the circumstances.
-but we cannot the king continued. We have no ships of our own, and for the last three weeks we have lost all communications. Any transmissions we have made have been disrupted by a jamming beam. We have only just now established that this is directed at the city from a point in the mountains. And a ship has been seen flying from there, bombing the surrounding hillsides. It has not approached the city or threatened us in any way. It does not make sense.
And there are more pressing problems. For the last fortnight the mong have been laying siege to the city.
The mong? Claymore queried. Impossible! They dont have the ability to co-ordinate a full-scale attack. The forest primates had developed sophisticated technology, but were prone to in-fighting. Apart from pirate raids on rare occasions, the two civilisations had lived in an uneasy co-existence.
Nevertheless Reepich twitched his whiskers, the mong clans have united. They have given no reason for their assault, and we intend to send a detachment to negotiate with them.
Claymore scratched his goatee. A host of problems and mysteries, your majesty. I will do what I can to assist.
The others left Claymore and Beeone to consult with the king, and went to recover from their traumatic shipwreck. A balcony showed them a magnificent view over the city, then they took a turbolift to ground level and left for some guest quarters provided by the king. As they left the palace, they passed an unusual sight.
Some form of ship had been placed on a pedestal; an exceedingly old design that was faceted like a black jewel. Much of it was encrusted with a thick shell of dirt and the roots of plants that had hardened over the years. Two cleaning droids worked patiently to brush it away.
Whats that? queried Piban. Ive never seen a ship with that type of drive before.
[Its an ancient specimen] replied Flitch. [A survey team found it three weeks ago deep in the forest. Its a valuable find, over a millennia old, and will be a great source of learning to our archaeological society. We think its an early escape pod].
This planet isnt native to the Doogo? asked Trian, wondering why the ship had not been discovered before.
[The system, yes. The planet, no] the rodent elaborated. [We were forced to relocate several hundred years ago to here, Dabbadon IV, when our home became uninhabitable. Overpopulation and misuse of resources forced us from Dabbadon II, and we have endeavoured to-]
The conversation was cut short by a blaring klaxon alarm somewhere above them. As the piercing sound echoed among the buildings, the passing Doogo started to run in different directions.
lifted his carbine and checked the power pack, whiskers bristling
mong attack again. They must have seen your ship come down].
A rapid skiff ride later, they were back at the city wall. Many doogo were there, loading weapons or repairing holes in the barricade. Seeing that their guests were there to help, one of them handed blasters to Enn and Trian. Hara-Kalor politely refused a weapon, and Oord and Piban drew their own.
A tense silence settled on the defenders, broken only by the clanking of weapons and rustling of a light breeze. They peered down the gentle slope and across the plain at the forest. Hara-Kalor willed himself to be calm, as his master had taught. Scaled eyelids narrowed in concentration as he opened himself to the Force.
The skill had been both easy and difficult to master. The Force was in all and moved through all, if one knew only how to listen. The first time his senses had reached out like this, it was like all of existence had screamed at him- an overwhelming bombardment of sensory information. Now he knew how to focus, to cast his attention in certain places in certain ways. It was as if the forest drew near to him and, in an intimate whisper, gave up its secrets.
The kwols eyes blinked, and his throat patch phased to an orange colour.
Many numberss he cautioned. And ssomething elsse.
Some trees at the edge of the forest rustled. There was a crack as something large moved through the undergrowth, and a tree fell.
Flitch pulled a triangular comlink from his ear. [All other posts report clear. They must be concentrating here].
of the Doogo raised his carbine and shouted tchissk pikpik mong
Though none of them spoke doogo, the meaning became clear as,
with the roar of hundreds of voices, the mong charged into view.
They were a strange race, projecting the paradoxical air of both the technological and primal. Thick matted coats of fur covered the bodies of the primates, and their only clothing consisted of bandoliers and belts. They carried long blaster rifles whose barrel stretched more than the height of a man (promoting accuracy) and ended in a wide blade, doubling the weapon as a polearm. Their eyes were vertical ellipses covering half the height of their faces, with thick pupils that glared up the slope at the city.
Though they were at extreme blaster range, some of the mong fired as they ran, out of pure savagery. Though the bolts had little chance of hitting any of the defenders, numerous buildings were struck by the sporadic fire.
They were getting closer now, the distance and slope not slowing the speed of the charge. A keening howl arose from the primates as they saw their enemy drawing near.
Trian felt sick. He had never seen conflict on this scale before. He thought he could hold his own in a fight, but this was a wave of danger- an entire army charging at him, far too many for him to fight. The only way to counter the instinct to flee was to trust in those around him, and Trian Letstra had been a loner for so long. Trust of others did not come easy to him.
Kuskva! hissed a Doogo
beside him, pointing.
Emerging from the trees was a large attack tank of an unusual design. The stone coloured body was shaped like a giant seed pod- a gray, pitted bulk. The four wheels were elliptical and offset from one another- the longest part of the oval was vertical on one wheel as it was horizontal on the opposite one. This caused the tank to move with a tossing, plunging motion.
Oord stared at the thing. That has GOT to make them seasick he commented.
Atop the tank was a solid gun turret that moved offset with the body, presumably due to some kind of stabilising gyro. The barrel elevated with purpose and there was a puff of smoke.
A deep whizzing sound preceded a violent explosion behind the defenders. Doogo scattered as masonry spattered the ground.
Flitch thumbed the comlink again. [Bring up the garbage cannons!] he said defiantly, as two more of the wobble tanks appeared.
first of them reached the tank obstacles. Its undulating gait
preventing it from being snared on them, and it surged through
with a snapping of wood. Oord, watching through his
macrobinoculars, reassessed his opinion of the vehicles
There was a staccato burst of fire from the doogo line as the mong soldiers came within blaster range. Several went down and instantly disappeared beneath charging feet, the mong force continuing with no apparent effect.
A doogo beside Piban was hit, emitting a pained shriek before a second shot killed him. The pilot fought the urge to duck behind the barricade and instead pumped shots at the approaching invaders as fast as his blaster could fire.
They were now only fifty meters away, and while the rate of mong losses increased as the gap closed, so did the accuracy of them firing on the run. Numerous doogo were hit and some ran shrieking back into the city.
was a sharp <kssssh> sound amid the noise of
battle, and Hara-Kalor stood at the wall with glowing force lash
in hand. [The
Jedi! The Jedi stand with us!] a murmur rippled through the defenders,
and Oord could palpably feel their morale rise.
Behind them, arriving from the city with a heavy metallic clanking sound, two curious weapons came into view. Appearing similar to a construction crane, they featured a long array of repulsor coils and were manned by droids, some of whom were collecting rubble caused by the fighting.
Struggling together, two of the droids lifted a chunk of concrete the size of a human torso and dropped it onto the garbage cannons loading bulb. Its repulsor field immediately pushed it to the first repulsor in the array, which accelerated it to the next.
There was a sharp crack as the debris broke the sound barrier, halfway along the array. By the time it left the end of the weapon it was a blur that flashed down the slope and struck the mong force, fountaining bodies and turf.
Then the two forces met. Screaming and squealing accompanied the sounds of blaster fire as the two battle lines melted into a confusing melee of death. Polearms sliced, blasters blazed, and and the body count grew. Beyond the struggle, one of the tanks was hit and destroyed by a garbage cannon.
Hara-Kalor fought his inner battle, seeking to give in to the force and not give in to frustration. Though the force lash was not as difficult to use as the lightsaber, it still required a considerable amount of skill. The mong were also very fast, and his weapon was the most visible one on the battlefield. More of his effort was spent dodging than striking back.
Beside him, Piban fired frantically and spared a glance at how his comrades were doing. Seeing the other garbage cannon, he did a double-take.
On the cannons command platform stood Claymore Trelk, directing its fire.
front of him stood Beeone, and Pibans jaw nearly dropped
open. Arms extended and feet locked firmly in place, the protocol
droid (Piban wondered if that title still applied) had projected
an energy shield bubble that enveloped him. Standing in front of
the senator, the droid protected him from blaster fire.
Excellent said Claymore as a second tank exploded. Now traverse left, fifteen degrees he directed the doogo beneath him. The rodent complied, wheeling levers that squeaked like he did.
But sir said Beeone over his shoulder the main force is directly-
There the senator gestured with a finger. That tank hasnt attacked and has moved into a vantage position. Its directing the mong.
Beside him, one of the droids lost its balance and toppled onto the loading bulb. There was a hum of acceleration, and the droid squealed briefly before it cracked the sound barrier and sailed off over the battle. Claymore used it as a sighting shot, instructing the doogo below him.
The first shot struck the grass five metres in front of the tank. It fired a poor retaliatory round before the second shot smashed through its body. Smoke began to trickle from it.
This had an immediate effect on the mong. Howling into comlinks, the commanders of the primates began to pull them back. The shaken and depleted doogo were more than happy to let them go.
Oord wasnt. We need a prisoner he commented, lifting his blaster and cocking the suction gun underneath. Taking careful aim, he shot one of the mong commanders in the back of the head, and steadied himself as the primate continued to run and took up the slack.
As the line drew taught, the mongs strength proved greater. The blaster was torn from Oords grasp and began bouncing down the slope after the fleeing mong army.
Standing at the wall and meeting little success with his force lash, Hara-Kalor had shut down the weapon and reached for a discarded blaster. He fired some ineffectual shots at the fleeing mong before gaping in surprise at the ridiculous sight of one of them running away towing a blaster from the back of its head.
Flitch, further up the line, had better fortune. Bracing his carbine on the barricade, he snapped off a flurry of shots, one of which hit the mong commander and saved Oords weapon.
An exhausted silence settled on the city, broken only by the groans of the dying and crackling of flames. Once they were sure that the mong were gone, many of the doogo began to drift back into the city. Reporting to superiors, seeking medical attention or finding loved ones, they limped away from the barricade. The group from Coruscant moved to follow.
Go Enn motioned them away. Im staying here. Theres work to do. Unfastening a medpac, he knelt by a doogo too injured to move.
experience of the last hour was life-changing. He had just
witnessed the horror of war, a rarity in the republic, and
killing on a mass scale had erupted before his very eyes. He had
lived among the upper class in the core systems, where life was
clean and sterile and a broken arm was considered a terrible
injury. But here- here life itself hung in the balance.
Here was suffering and need. Here medicine, his calling, truly
The others wandered in the direction of the palace, saying little and trying to come to terms with the events of the day.
I feel sick offered Trian.
Oord shot him a knowing look. First battle nerves he grunted. Next time youll be fine.
And there will be a next time added Claymore. That attack was thrown together- an attempt to catch the doogo while they were distracted. Next time theyll be better organised.
What these guys need stated Piban is air defense. An airspeeder or two and theyd be able to-
They havent got any interrupted the senator. I already asked Reepich. Only ground skimmers, and they arent very effective against the wobble tanks.
doogo gained their attention with a wave. [Your pardon, visitors] it chattered [I am assistant
archaeological director Nichit, and I would be honoured by the
services of your droid]. The senator nodded his assent, and they followed.
After being led through some side-streets and hastily avoiding an ambulance skimmer, they found themselves back at the institute for archaeology, near the palace. The curious gem-shaped pod ship was still there, now with a polygonal hatch that was propped conspicuously open.
Inside the thing a dank smell almost gagged them. Rust, dirt or something else crunched underfoot. The corridors were angular and etched with intricate designs that were unknown and unreadable, but added to the eerie feel of the place as Nichit led them into it.
Hara-Kalors throat patch had phased to somewhere between grey and red. I feel cold he said cautiously, eyes peering into rooms independently. There iss danger in this placce.
[Nothing we could find] declared the doogo. [Weapons scans, trap detectors and bio screens all check out. Its mostly empty, even the droid connection ports. The ships been built around the central computer, which is what we need you for. Its just up here ]
The room they entered was octagonal and split-level, stepped down to permit seating for twenty or so. In the center was what appeared to be a multifaceted pedestal, ringed by small holes and etched with many different inscriptions. They studied it curiously as Nichit produced an elongated, daggerlike gem.
[Can you read any of it?] he asked as Beeone studied the writings.
The photoreceptors turned to the doogo without expression. Much of it, sir. Theyre the names of languages, each in their own language. Camaasi, Older Huttese, Bothan, Ancient Bith, two dead languages including Higher Squag
Basic? suggested Trian hopefully.
Er.. yes replied the droid
darkly, indicating one of the holes. It didnt seem to say
basic (no-one else could read it), but the doogo took
the droids word for it. He placed the gem into the hole.
Beeone read some more inscriptions, then turned the gem counter-clockwise.
a sparkle of crackling light, a large hologram blossomed into
view before them.
It was a human head, or had once been. The eyes beneath the helmet glared hatred, or madness. The jaw was gone and had been replaced by metal prosthetics, adding to the ghastly appearance.
The hologram stopped rotating as it appeared to regard them.
"Greetings, chosen child" it spoke, the deep
voice reminiscent of a growling animal. "I am Lord Sade, and because
you are seeing this I am dead. This will not stop me being your
"Long ago there were many such as I- wielders of great power, keepers of great secrets. The thirst for power overcame them all, and they slew each other in a great war. One was left- Darth Bane. He knew that if there were three of us, two would conspire against the third. He chose but one apprentice, and when he died the masters role was assumed".
"Down through the ages there
have been two of us for that reason- no more, no less. When the
master dies the apprentice becomes the master, and takes a
student of his own".
"But my student, Darth Vorch, grows impatient for my passing and wishes to claim my power for his own. This I will not tolerate, but should he succeed he will know my wrath from beyond death".
"And because you are here,
succeed he has. My pod has launched and found an apprentice, and
soon you will know power- beyond what is now your awareness.
Here, by my droids, you will be fed and clothed, trained and
sculpted. The knowledge of centuries lies in these crystals, and
my servants will ensure that you do my bidding. Before I am dead
a decade, Vorch will join me in death".
"Come, my young apprentice. Let me teach you of the Sith".
The menacing stare shimmered into nothingness, leaving a shocked silence in the room.
"Were there any droids in here?" queried Piban nervously.
[No] said Nichit.
"I musst sspeak to the Jedi Counccil immediately" Hara-Kalor spoke gravely. "The Ssith have found a way to ssurvive the lasst thoussand yearss".
"We can't" Oord reminded him. "This city's transmissions are being jammed, remember? From up in the mountains somewhere".
The padawan blinked his reptilian eyes. "Then restoring their communicationss iss our firsst priority".
[Wait] Nichit held up a paw. [That was only the first of
two holo-gems we found, though there is storage for over a
Bending to the strange holoprojector he dropped the second gem
in, and Darth Sade's ghastly visage appeared once more.
"Lord Vorch is strong" the voice rasped again. "And as thorough as your training will be, one trained like this will not be enough to defeat him.
Lord Bane was wise. He knew that three Sith would fight among each other, and kept but one apprentice. But what hope will that be to avenge my death, let alone defeat the legion of Jedi?.
Ah, but I am wiser still. The Force is linked to the energies of life, created and bound by it. The triumph of my research is the crystal now implanted in all of you- by this your life energies are bound. Strike each other and you will feel their pain.
bond you share will force you to learn unity, to put aside your
personal lust for power and strive for the majesty of our order.
As in the great age of the Sith, you will learn that together you
cannot be stopped. Not by my apprentice, not by the Jedi."
The image winked out, and silence imposed itself again.
"Ugrle" said Oord.
"The crysstal ccircle" gasped Hara-Kalor in recognition.
"Let me get this straight" said Trian. "This thing was made to kidnap little kids and train them to be Sith thousands of years ago, before the Sith were extinct".
"Created for that, yes" said Beeone. "As insurance, a personal vendetta from one sith lord to his apprentice. But it appears that something went wrong. The Sith were wiped out, and the ship lay dormant for a long time, but it's been used. At some time it has been awakened, and now.."
"Now" echoed Piban "there are an unknown number of Lords of the Sith out there, and their power is growing..."